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Friday, January 08, 2010

The future of the Welsh Language on TV

Former Conservative Welsh Office Minister and the last person to be elected as Leader of the Welsh Tory Assembly Group, Rod Richards sticks his oar in again this morning, with the proposal that Welsh Language Channel, S4C should be disbanded.

Mr. Richards, who was a minister in the Welsh Office in John Major’s Government from 1994 until 1996, said millions of pounds could be saved by closing the channel and transferring Welsh language programming back to BBC Wales.

Currently, S4C receives around £120m of public money, both directly from the UK Government and from the BBC in contracted Welsh language programming. In 2008, its viewing share was 2.7% of the TV programmes watched in Wales.

Mr. Richards, who beat Nick Bourne for the Tory Leadership in 1998, believes that too much money is being spent on a bloated bureaucracy including salaries for high-flying executives and suggests that as the channel does not actually make any programmes itself, but commissions them from the BBC and elsewhere, it serves no useful purpose. He wants the Welsh language content to be transferred to BBC Wales.

Much as he may wish to bang this drum, Mr. Richards is behind the times. I certainly agree with him that there needs to be more intense scrutiny of S4C and the way that it spends public money, but to close it down would significantly reduce the amount of Welsh Language programming that is broadcast and effectively send what is left to the graveyard slot. I believe that there is cross-party support for that view, including the Welsh Conservatives.

Where I do agree with Rod Richards and Labour MP Chris Bryant is in the proposal that the responsibility for and the funding of S4C be transferred to the Welsh Government. At least that would allow greater scrutiny and transparency and perhaps enable us to pin down exactly how £120 million of public money is spent and whether it is producing value for money.

Like many others I do not believe that the DCMS is doing this job effectively and that they cannot do so because they are based in London and do not fully understand the context in which the channel operates. Moving that responsibility to Cardiff might improve that situation.
Try and complain about S4C TV. You can only complain to S4C TV itself. It has no "Watchdog" like other forms of Press and Media. I'm not happy with that. Like many, I fought to establish S4C TV and went through a Court Conviction for civil direct action at the time. Having said that, I don't think there is one of the current Welsh 40 MPs or 60 AMs who did that much at that time when some of us patriots fought to get the S4C TV channel. Come to think of it I also fought with Anti Apartheid and Anti Poll Tax campaigners etc a few decades ago. I don't think any of the 100 I just mentioned were ever seen on the barricades. OK kids like Bethan Jenkins AM as an example were not even born then - but none of the 100 have, or will, ever take direct action - the biggest revolutionary thing an Assembly Member can do these days is to be rude to the Queen and call her "Mrs Windsor"!
For the record I was involved in demonstrations against Apartheid and the Poll Tax as well.
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